Skip to content
The official website of Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, low carb pioneers and authors of Protein Power.

My politics

Andrew Sullivan savages David Brooks’ opinion piece in today’s New York Times. If you want to see a pretty close approximation to what my politics are, this fisking by Sullivan lays them out pretty nicely. Money quote:

But bigger government always means less personal liberty. This is simply a fact, not an opinion. The trade-off is always there. It may be worth it in some instances – which is why I’m not a libertarian. But it is simply true that every dollar taken by the government is one dollar less for you and me to spend on what we decide is best; every freedom removed or infringed by the government is one less for you and me to enjoy. You can defend the trade-off, and should at times, but please don’t pretend it isn’t there.

I’m a small government Goldwater conservative, but I think compulsory high school education is worth the trade-off of freedom. I think universal healthcare insurance is an infringement of liberty, but since we have committed to providing emergency healthcare for all, it’s a trade-off worth making for fiscal and moral reasons. Small government conservatives don’t want to abandon government. We want it small – but strong and focused on what government really ought to do. And we have learned from experience that the bigger government is, the less effective it often is; and the more confusing and massive it is, the less accountable it is.

Brilliantly done!

23 Comments

  1. Paul on March 29, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    “Bigger government always means less personal liberty” is not a fact, “simply” or otherwise. It’s not even an opinion until he explains what he means by “bigger” “government” “less” “personal” and “liberty.”

    If government shrank to the point where no personal safety were available, how much liberty would you have, Mike? If there were no police to call and everyone knew it, what would it cost you to hang onto your house? In money? In time? In terror?

    Sullivan’s statement is actually quite witless.

    Hi Paul–

    I disagree.

    Your statement

    If government shrank to the point where no personal safety were available, how much liberty would you have, Mike? If there were no police to call and everyone knew it, what would it cost you to hang onto your house? In money? In time? In terror?

    is a reductio ad absurdum.  No one, not even we limited-government types believes that anarchy should reign, which is what would happen without formal government.  In my view, one of the chief responsibilities of government is to provide for the common safety so that we can all go about our lives without having to worry about defending ourselves against assault.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  2. Bryan Rankin on March 29, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Allow me to add another data point that will move Mike towards the middle of the spectrum…

    “…anarchy should reign, which is what would happen without formal government.”

    If you define anarchy as “absence of government” the above statement is certainly true. But that is not synonymous with “absence of order” or even “absence of law”.

    “I think compulsory high school education is worth the trade-off of freedom”.

    I don’t. But the bigger problem is that we don’t have compulsory high school education; we have compulsory high school attendance.

    By the way, I love you blog Mike. It’s my first stop each morning.

    Hi Bryan–

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog.

    I have real difficulty believing that without government (or at least a police force, which is a form of government) we would not have an absence of order.  When you have a criminal element–which no one should doubt that we do–who would rather take by force than earn, then you’ve got to have some kind of force to keep them at bay.

    If we all had to provide our own protection, it would certainly limit our freedom to pursue whatever it is that we want to pursue.  We would have to spend a portion of whatever we earn to provide ourselves with a our own private security force or maintain constant vigilance over our property and our own lives.  Instead, we contribute in the form of taxes a small amount individually to provide a police force, a judiciary, and a penal system to deal with the miscreants in our midst.  Is this system abused?  Of course.  But I think we’re better off with it than without it.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  3. Malcolm on March 29, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    But bigger government always means less personal liberty. This is simply a fact, not an opinion.

    Hmmm, well I’m hardly a David Brooks fan!, but although this sounds logical, I don’t think it necessarily follows either. For example we used to have a ‘bigger’ government here (in the sense that the government was involved in many more areas of our daily lives – so we used to have things like legal aid for those that needed it and ‘free’ university education (in fact when I got my degree the government actually helped out with a small weekly payment to help with books and living expenses). The Government also owned some businesses like one of the banks (in competition with private banks) and the post and telecommunication systems (as monopolies). The thing is, since we have lost all of those things in the name of private enterprise and supposedly smaller, less intrusive government, we have gone backwards on the personal liberty front and continue to do so. We also pay more tax – we just get less and less for it!

    Whilst I am certainly a libertarian when it comes to personal life choices (euthanasia, abortion, relationships etc) I do see a roll for government in providing all the basic services (or things like education that we used to regard as basic). In fact education is probably the best example. A poorly educated, easily led population actually suits those in government (regardless of party), but the type of society made possible by everyone having a higher level of education makes it much more than a personal liberty issue. Sure you should have the choice as to whether your children go to a government or (if you can afford it) a private school – but you also benefit from all children regardless of means being educated to as high a standard as possible. The same sorts of arguments can be put forward in respect of health, police, access to the legal system, provision of transport infrastructure, parks etc etc.

    Perhaps we also need to look at the other way round. If you take the small government argument too far, personal liberty in any real sense will be restricted to those either in power or with the financial wherewithal to protect and provide for themselves to the exclusion of everyone else. That is not a society in which I would want to live regardless of what side of the razor wire I happened to belong.

    Hi Malcolm–

    I agree to a point, but your argument as stated here

    The same sorts of arguments can be put forward in respect of health, police, access to the legal system, provision of transport infrastructure, parks etc etc.

    is a slippery slope argument.  If we continue down that slippery slope we could say that people everywhere would be better off if there was no personal rudeness (which I think most people would agree with), therefore we need the government to slap down anyone who says an unkind or rude thing to anyone else. 

    In my opinion the government ought to provide a few vital functions and leave everything else to the market to sort out.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  4. Francis St-Pierre on March 29, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    “No one, not even we limited-government types believes that anarchy should reign, which is what would happen without formal government. In my view, one of the chief responsibilities of government is to provide for the common safety so that we can all go about our lives without having to worry about defending ourselves against assault.”

    I do think that no function can be performed better by governments than by voluntary action.

    Can you explain why you believe government is unnecessary in non-vital functions (like regulation of the media or social housing) but absolutely indispensable in providing vital functions s.a. education or security? Why would the market be outrageously better at providing shoes and insurance, but incapable of providing the so-called public goods?

    What makes government suddenly not suck when it comes to these issues? And frankly, doesn’t it in reality suck at these? All the time?

    Hi Francis–

    I agree that government sucks at about everything it does, but sometimes even a less than stellar performance is better than no performance at all.  If you were in the middle of nowhere and had an attack of acute appendicitis, the only cure for which is removal of your appendix, and all you had available to treat you was a first year medical student or an accountant, who would you choose?  The first year medical student is far from a trained surgeon, but is a hell of a lot better choice than the accountant.  In my view, government is much the same–it ain’t the best it can be, but it’s a lot better than nothing when it comes to protecting us from the brigands among us.

    Having said that, there are many functions of government that in my opinion are unnecessary and can and should be dispensed with.   But providing for the common defense and protecting the citizenry from the depredations of the criminally inclined I think are vital.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  5. simon fellows on March 29, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Folks en masse. Go to The Times (London) and listen to the podcast of the We don’t need God-ers..Dawkins, Hitchens etc versus the we do’s of Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Professor Roger Scruton.

    Great stuff..
    …..and of course Hitchens and Dawkins are spot-on !! We die but ..well not really…

  6. Malcolm on March 30, 2007 at 5:09 am

    I agree to a point, but your argument as stated here
    “The same sorts of arguments can be put forward in respect of health, police, access to the legal system, provision of transport infrastructure, parks etc etc.”
    is a slippery slope argument. If we continue down that slippery slope we could say that people everywhere would be better off if there was no personal rudeness (which I think most people would agree with), therefore we need the government to slap down anyone who says an unkind or rude thing to anyone else.

    Well the slippery slope, if one exists must exist in both directions (leaving the policing of public rudeness to private militia would be just as damaging), and the demarcation between what one considers can be safely left to the market and what you believe a government does better supposedly defines your politics, when of course the reality is just a little bit more complex. I agree government intervention frequently results in over regulation, and that should be addressed – but going from too many rules to none at all is not a solution either.

    For the record I certainly don’t think having any sort of rule to eliminate personal rudeness would be a good idea – first it would be unenforceable regardless of who formed the ‘politeness police’, but more importantly it would be an untenable incursion on our freedoms of speech and expression. Not sure if Voltaire covered rudeness, but if he didn’t, he should have!

    BTW Thanks for the Times podcast Simon. Pity we didn’t get to hear the questions!

    Hi Malcolm–

    I agree: the slippery slope runs both ways.  As I see it there are two ends to the spectrum of government intervention into our lives.  At the one end there is none, which would probably lead to chaos, and the other end, which would be the total nanny state.  My own politics tends toward the former, not the latter.

    I believe that there are basic services that government should provide (my list would be some different from Andrew Sullivan’s), but beyond providing those services (all of which both rob us of some freedoms yet give us others–it’s a trade off) government should leave us alone.  I figure that I am as smart as–if not a hell of a lot smarter than–most government employees, so why should they tell me how to spend my money and my time (required to earn that money and required to comply with many of their foolish edicts).  I know I’m vastly more nutritionally knowledgeable than they, yet they try to tell me how to eat.  I’m sure the same situation holds for about anything you want to talk about.

    I can eat on my own however I want without their intervention, but I can’t reasonably put assemble, train, and equip my own army.  I’m willing to pay for the latter, but the former…  Why should my tax money go to some nimrod (or more likely, a large group of nimrods) to come up with some pie in the sky idiocy about how I should eat according to a food pyramid when I can make my own selections much more wisely?  Yes, but all those people who are not as nutritionally knowledgeable as you, what about them?  They need the guidance.  Do they?  Is anyone better for having the food pyramid foisted upon them?  Are school children better off having their lunches dictated by the food pyramid?

    As I say, there are essential government services and all the rest.  The whole idea of politics is an argument over which are essential and which aren’t and how to pay for them.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  7. Francis St-Pierre on March 30, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for the reply doc, but you did not really answer my question.

    I’ll restate it using your analogy : Why are we stuck with the choice between 1st year medicine students and accountants when it comes to these vital functions? Why can’t the market provide experienced doctors only in regard to these functions?

    My opinion is that we’re so used to having government assuming these functions that we’re convinced private entreprise could not possibly do the job.

    A comparison would be the former government monopoly on telecoms. This sector was seen as a natural monopoly (much like justice or defense) and needed government intervention. Now not only do we have multiple carriers, but we also have gone beyond simple landlines and have adopted wireless/cell phone services. The market not only was able to take over these government services, but it actually innovated in giving customers additional solutions to their communications needs.

    The same can certainly be true also for these essential government functions you believe in.

    For a good, inexpensive read, check out Robert Murphy’s Chaos Theory at http://www.mises.org/store/Chaos-Theory-P190C0.aspx

    Best regards,

    You probably don’t realize it, but I am a huge Murray Rothbard fan.  And Frederick Bastiat’s book The Law is one of my all time favorites.  So I am a libertarian through and through.  I love Rothbard’s (I’m pretty sure it was his) statement that if the government had always made cars, people would all believe that only the government could make cars.  I believe–in theory–that private enterprise can always do a better job at anything than the government can.  But, as a practical matter, with the political situation we have in place now, that’s never going to happen.  I don’t care if we elected a libertarian president and a libertarian congress and all the governors were libertarian, human nature being what it is, won’t allow private enterprise to take over the function of the army, the judicial system (although a private judiciary would be far superior to the one we have now), the public school system and any number of others.

    We can argue about whether it would be better to have private enterprise run everything or run nothing, but it’s kind of pointless other than as a philosophical debate.  I would rather spend my time and effort on promoting changes that have a chance of coming about.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  8. jay on March 30, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    I agree with you about smaller government. We seem to lose more personal freedoms every year. When did it become the government’s job to protect us from every little thing? I came from a generation that survived without helmets when we rode bikes, cars without seatbelts, etc. I’m not saying these are bad laws but what ever happened to personal responsibility and common sense. Your analogy of the government’s food pyramid is a good example.
    As far as education stands I think the “no child left behind” is creating a generation of illiterates.
    I know a fourth grade teacher who says she no longer teaches the students, her whole job is to teach them the State’s tests so they can score high and get more government aid for the school.
    I know a college professor who had a student (a high school graduate) who couldn’t recite the months of the year in order. This student was taking an accounting course.
    Instead of being held back in high school these students are being passed through a failing system to become an adult who can’t think for themselves. This is probably why politicians are really posting on MySpace.
    I don’t remember where I read it but a long time ago I read that if you want to control the masses all you have to do is keep them ignorant. I think we are well on our way.

    Hi Jay–

    I agree.  I don’t know if the intention is to keep the masses ignorant, but that certainly seems the result of the current system.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  9. Michael on March 30, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Would you be willing to tell us what you think the “vital” aspects of government should be? It’s easy for everyone to cheer and jeer each others’ comments here, but to really understand where you’re coming from, I think it’d be great to know.

    In a nutshell…

    On a national level: to raise and equip a military, i.e. to provide for the common defense.

    On a local level: to provide a police force.

    There it is.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  10. Dan on March 30, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    “A poorly educated, easily led population actually suits those in government (regardless of party), but the type of society made possible by everyone having a higher level of education makes it much more than a personal liberty issue.”

    I would contend that the public school system is producing poorly educated people, as noted by Jay’s post above. When the government controls education, it can cram student’s minds full of whatever propaganda it wants to and produce a bunch of mindless robots who don’t dare question the state and are easily led. That’s antithetical to personal liberty.

    Standardized testing has become a sham in Texas. The public schools are more concerned with students passing the tests than with learning anything. Now “No Child Left Behind” is taking this failed concept nationwide.

    I agree completely.  My kids and grandkids live in Texas, and no one who can afford not to sends their kids to public schools.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  11. busrider on March 30, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    The economy is the production and distribution of goods and services. Production is a plus for society. The function of gov’t is to control distribution ie it must protect and steal the produce. Various gov’t protect/steal ratios lead to different results but stealing from the producers leads to less produce due to less incentive. Hence the redistribution of the stolen produce (less protection fees) must outweigh the loss of production in order to be deemed good for society.

    Interesting way to look at it, but makes perfect sense.  Problem is it’s tough to keep the amount being stolen from outweighing the good such stealth brings about.  Another way to look at it is that the government tries to steal as many golden eggs as it can without killing the goose that lays them.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  12. Carly on March 30, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    This is off topic, but I received a letter inviting me to a vaccination clinic for meningitis (“a rapidly progressive bacterial infection,” according to the letter) because I start college in the fall.

    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this. Is meningitis truly an infectious disease, or is it caused by something else which impairs the immune system and simply allows for the bacteria/virus to multiply?

    Please do not feel obligated to respond if you have no opinion, I am merely curious.

    Best Regards!

    Hi Carly– 

    Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord.  It is caused by a couple of different bacteria, but the most serious kind is caused by Neisseria meningitidis aka meningococcus.  About one out of every ten people who get meningitis caused by this particular bacerium die and most who don’t are left with some permanent damage.  It is contagious, but not particularly common.  In my entire medical career I have never seen a case.  I asked MD and she saw one case: a 7-year old kid who spiked a high fever and was dead within 48 hours.

    There is now a vaccine against meningococcus that kids are getting at 10-12 years old.  Other people in high risk occupations (microbiologists, for example) and people thrown together in close quarters (military recruits) are urged to get it along with people who travel to parts of Africa where the disease is endemic.

    It is truly an infectious disease, but if your immune system is impaired it is even more infectious.

    Hope this helps.

    MRE 

  13. Malcolm on March 30, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Hi again Mike 😉

    I’d say we aren’t really that far apart when it comes to government intervention but when you talk about the Food Pyramid you are really disagreeing with government policy not the the fact that the government might have a role in education. If that policy was different and the ‘nimrods’ not only got a clue but decided to ignore the free market forces (sugar lobby, corn lobby etc) and provide basic (correct) nutritional guidance I imagine you would be the first to applaud and agree that the minimal amount spent researching and promoting this was tax dollars well spent.

    Sure you are intelligent enough to work this out for yourself, and sure there are a relative handful that arrive at the same conclusion with the aid of your books, but for the vast majority some anti free market guidance would be invaluable and even if you don’t benefit directly, you and the society you live in would be way ahead both from a health and a financial standpoint. (I imagine even in your free market nirvana there would be some health system safety net for those too poor to afford to pay either directly or through insurance – as I’m sure you are aware this would account for a significant percentage of your tax dollar – so yes leading the great unwashed to better health provides you with a significant benefit.)

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Ah, Malcolm–

    As I read your post it makes me think we are much further apart in philosophy than you might think.  First, I don’t think it is the government’s (read: yours and mine) responsibility to educate or provide health care for anyone.  The choice to educate oneself or take responsibility for one’s health is a personal one.  If someone chooses not to make the same choice I do (I spent many years educating myself and taking charge of my own health), why should I be forced to pay for the choice they made.  You can go on about how many people don’t have the opportunities to make those choices, but I don’t buy it.  Personal responsibility is the key.

    I’ve reared three children and I’ve noticed that when they had to stand on their own two feet they did.  When MD and I were there to bail them out, they took the lifeline.  I suspect most people are the same.  If they have to do it they will, if they don’t they won’t.   That’s how come I’m a non-believer in the nanny state.  The only way many people are going to be made personally responsible is if they have to.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  14. Francis St-Pierre on March 31, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Great to see our disagreement is on such a trivial question then. 🙂

    You wouldn’t believe how many market anarchists are indeed convinced of the superiority of the market in all things, but simply don’t believe it will ever happen. I don’t share this point of view, but it’s certainly a comfortable position to be in.

    On a side note, is it a coincidence that so many libertarians are also into low-carb? I like to think our critical thinking got us in both places.

    Best regards,
    Francis

    Hi Francis–

    I think you’re right about the critical thinking driving folks towards both libertarianism and low-carb.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  15. Malcolm on March 31, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    I would contend that the public school system is producing poorly educated people, as noted by Jay’s post above. When the government controls education, it can cram student’s minds full of whatever propaganda it wants to and produce a bunch of mindless robots who don’t dare question the state and are easily led. That’s antithetical to personal liberty.
    Standardized testing has become a sham in Texas. The public schools are more concerned with students passing the tests than with learning anything. Now “No Child Left Behind” is taking this failed concept nationwide.
    I agree completely. My kids and grandkids live in Texas, and no one who can afford not to sends their kids to public schools.

    So you have a failed or failing policy – this is more a failing of democracy than any particular philosophy of education. A properly functioning democracy would stop education of any kind being used as a tool for propaganda and unquestioning compliance (whereas free market forces put a high value on these attributes, with no controls). And what do you need for improved critical assessment of political policy options … universal high standard education, that’s what! In fact this is an excellent example of the incidental value that we all benefit from if all children (not just ours) are taught critical thinking – something many private schools fail at completely (where are you more likely to be taught ‘creation science’?) – and yes I do realise this may be the ‘mindless robotic’ parents’ choice – but that doesn’t make the outcome any more palatable.

    In any event I’m yet to hear of any Macavelian conspiracy theory that suggests there is method (ie a specific propaganda agenda) behind the madness of a woefully under funded public education system aside from the philosophical thrust that the private system is somehow inherently better, and that children of parents who either can’t or won’t pay for adequate education somehow deserve the handicap.

    Hi Malcolm–

    As I see it there are a couple of flaws in your thinking.  First, a ‘properly functioning democracy’ is a mythical beast, much like a unicorn.  Everyone has heard of unicorns, but no one has ever really seen one.  Same with a properly functioning democracy.  I take it to mean that a properly functioning democracy is one that functions as you would like to see it function, not as reality demands that it function.  We can propose that virtually all problems can be solved by a properly functioning democracy; we just can’t ever find one.

    As to the public school systems being chronically underfunded…I think that is a unicorn-like myth as well.  I know a teacher from an inner city school in an industrial city with a huge minority population – the very schools everyone assumes are underfunded – who makes $87,000 per year.  When her salary is annualized taking into account her three months off in the summer (not to mention two weeks at Christmas, a week in the spring, and countless other holidays) it comes out to $116,000 per year.  I would imagine a whole lot of people would like to make that salary and wouldn’t consider themselves underpaid.

    Stop mercilessly taxing parents and let them spend their own money to send their kids to the schools of their choice.  Some will opt for the ‘creation science curriculum-type schools, but more – I would bet – will opt for schools of much higher quality than the public schools they’re now attending.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  16. Malcolm on April 1, 2007 at 8:36 am

    ”Ah, Malcolm–
    As I read your post it makes me think we are much further apart in philosophy than you might think. First, I don’t think it is the government’s (read: yours and mine) responsibility to educate or provide health care for anyone. The choice to educate oneself or take responsibility for one’s health is a personal one. If someone chooses not to make the same choice I do (I spent many years educating myself and taking charge of my own health), why should I be forced to pay for the choice they made. You can go on about how many people don’t have the opportunities to make those choices, but I don’t buy it. Personal responsibility is the key.
    I’ve reared three children and I’ve noticed that when they had to stand on their own two feet they did. When MD and I were there to bail them out, they took the lifeline. I suspect most people are the same. If they have to do it they will, if they don’t they won’t. That’s how come I’m a non-believer in the nanny state. The only way many people are going to be made personally responsible is if they have to.”

    Ah Mike, perhaps we are (but I doubt it),

    I also believe in personal responsibility. But beyond that I think you are missing the point. Regardless of the choices we make as individuals, there is value to us as individuals in influencing the behaviour of others, because their behaviour impacts on us either directly or indirectly. The simple example we agree on is having a functional state run police force to protect us from others.

    When it comes to education (and health) you appear to be saying since you and your parents have taken responsibility for the particular steps which led to your high level of education (and have also been in a position to do so) then to hell with anyone else who won’t or can’t follow your lead. They deserve what life brings then as a result and whatever happens to them is both not a concern of yours and has no impact on your life. Well we don’t live in a vacuum – and unless and until we live in some form of libertarian utopia (?) where such people can be assigned to the scrap heap with no impact on you and the society in which you choose to live, then some cost/benefit analysis of what can be done to mitigate the damage being done by the failure of many to successfully take responsibility for their own lives without assistance is needed. So the answer to your question of why you should pay is (a) partly because you are fortunate enough to live in an imperfect but functional society, you can, and (b) because in doing so you also derive a personal benefit from the results of doing so … which leads us back to (a)! Sure it’s not a perfect system (so why not work to make it better?) – but just as you insist on paying the free market price for anything else, there are costs associated with making the society in which you live as cohesive as possible given the unavoidably large variation in the commitment and enterprise of its members.

    Lets take a couple of extreme examples to illustrate the point. Do you really think that the government has no role in helping victims of natural disasters? Your police and the military might assist but the people affected by hurricane Katrina need real, long term help over and above that. The alternative is to say, well I’m glad that didn’t happen to me, but really those people should have known not to live in an area so vulnerable, regardless of their financial circumstances they should have been insured to a level that allowed them to pick up their lives, move elsewhere and rebuild (because the free market won’t allow them to rebuild where they stupidly chose to live). ‘My’ taxes should not be used to insulate these people from their own folly and doing so would be a low point in nanny state coddling. Right? The free market might provide?, perhaps there will be some private individual philanthropy to help, but heaven forbid that our government should get involved.

    Too harsh? Lets take your example of your children. I agree with you that children should be taught to stand on their own feet – it’s an important life lesson, particularly in the light of what seems in store from both a political and environmental standpoint. But imagine if some misfortune was to befall one of them (or course I really hope it doesn’t). Imagine one of them suffered some form of injury that left them unable to care for themselves or their family. Imagine too that for some reason this ‘child’ had neglected to insure himself against this particular eventuality. Would you be annoyed that he had failed to take responsibility? Maybe. Would you as a result of your disappointment abandon him and his family to suffer the consequences because stepping in to help would be to act as a nanny? Of course you wouldn’t. Then why should your response be different for someone who doesn’t have a family support network to fall back on?

    As I said, I get your objections to over regulation. There is a law here that requires me to wear a life jacket in some circumstances when I head out on the water. It irks me that as an experienced sailor I can’t make that decision for myself when conditions might warrant it. However I frequently see the irresponsible and inexperienced putting not just their own lives at risk but those of their children. In that instance I agree the state has a role, just as it does (and I’m sure you agree) to prevent (criminal) child abuse. You say the government has no role in education. People should just take their chances and take responsibility for their own decisions even in instances like health and diet where the free market is constantly telling them to do the wrong thing? Should we just abandon those less equipped to discover the truth than you or me? What about their children? How is their physical wellbeing somehow less important in this context?

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Hi Malcolm–

    It’s taken me forever to answer this comment because the whole tone of it embodies the difference in political philosophy between a statist or a collectivists as you obviously are and a libertarian as I am.  And it takes more time than I’ve had to spare to lay out and dissect the difference in these ideologies.

    You’ve couched your arguments in a way that to disagree with them makes one look like an uncaring swine, which I don’t think I am.  Yet I disagree with just about every part of your argument.

    Take the part about Katrina, for example.  Wal Mart – a private company – did more and did it more quickly and efficiently than the federal government even thought about.  The papers here were filled with articles about private individuals and private groups who responded with millions of dollars of aid.  Sadly, the incompetence and silly rules of the federal government prevented many of these private individuals and entities from being able to accomplish what they had set out to do, but despite the governmental hurdles and bureaucratic meddling, much got done anyway.

    Now I know your response to this would be that the system is imperfect and that in a perfect democracy these monumental failures wouldn’t take place.  But that’s the point.  There is no such animal as a perfect democracy other than in the imaginations of all you statists.  It doesn’t and won’t ever exist.

    The last statistics I read said that something on the order of 75 percent of the people displaced by Katrina had gone somewhere else to live and had no plans to move back to New Orleans.  For at least 15 years there have been predictions that a Katrina-like disaster was going to happen at some point.  If these people had the wherewithal to get relocated after it happened, why not before?  Why should it be incumbent on me and everyone else to subsidize their living in a place bound to be destroyed at some point when they choose to live there in harm’s way.

    A few miles from our house in Santa Barbara there is an area that is virtually on the Pacific beach.  The houses all have million dollar views of the ocean.  In fact, the houses just a mile or two up the way sell for many millions of dollars.  But in the area in question the houses sell for a small fraction of that and can be leased for a song.  Why?  Because the hills right above these houses are prone to landslides and over the past 10 or 12 years have – without warning – dropped tons of mud on these houses, burying them, and in the last slide two years ago, killing about a dozen people.  But people who don’t earn enough to buy the multi-million dollar beach front properties a couple of miles away, yet want the same ocean setting choose to move to and live in this little community and take their chances.  Should I (and by extension the government I support with my taxes) be on the hook to rebuild these houses when the next landslide comes, as it surely will?  I don’t think so.

    One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis and it deals with the difference in the way you and I see the world and the responsibility for the care of its inhabitants.

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  17. Max on April 2, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Quick bit of testimony I heard on the Hill recently (House SubCommittee on Financial Services, “The Role of Public Investment in Promoting Economic Growth”).

    If you will, compare costs and results from medicare with private insurance for same population. While you are at it, compare results/costs at VA hospitals (please note Walter Reed is a MILITARY hospital, not a VA hospital, these are two COMPLETELY different pieces of your federal government, DoD & DVA) with the private sector’s costs/results on a similar population.

    If you do this, you will find that your federal government handles health care a lot better than the market. Not just in terms of servicing the unservables, but on controlling cost and in terms of results.

    Similarly, consider the privatized, competing fire company as a subscription service, the way it used to be done in this country (19th century). The perverse incentives involved in a marketplace governed fire department led many towards arson and others towards fights with competing firehouses while building burned.

    Last thought: if you don’t like regulation of certain industries, you will probably like the results of unregulated industries a lot less. Consider a media monopoly with a CEO ideologically opposed to your point of view. Consider the oil barons of the 19th century. How about the possibility of living in the suburbs with electricity.

    Markets are good for some things (IE non-public goods) but good government is BETTER for others (things that are worthwhile but not for any single investor). The problem isn’t a question of government size vs. personal freedoms, it’s a question of government quality and a proper place.

    If you do this, you will find that your federal government handles health care a lot better than the market. Not just in terms of servicing the unservables, but on controlling cost and in terms of results.

    I disagree completely.  The government does not handle health care better than the market.  The market subsidizes government health care.  The government pays very little for its services under medicare and medicaid, so it appears to be doing a better job.  Most doctors see medicare patients – if they see them at all – as a sort of charity.  The doctors certainly don’t make a living from their medicare patients; they make their living from their private pay patients and see the medicare ones out of the goodness of their hearts.

    When I thumb through medical journals about improving practice performance (which I don’t much anymore because I don’t have an active practice) I always see articles by practice consultants with titles like: Improve your bottom line within a month or Working harder and earning less?  Five steps to turn this around or How to make your practice profitable.  In each and everyone of these articles, the very first recommendation the consultant would make (and remember, these are articles written by many different consultants) would be to get rid of medicare patients because they are a huge drain on a medical practice’s finances.  Every single consultant in every single article on improving practice productivity made the recommendation to ditch medicare patients.

    When MD and I were in practice, we saw no medicare patients.  Why? Because if you do, you open yourself up to some serious liability.  The government mandates (this is the same government, you see, that does such a much less expensive job of providing health care) the maximum price that can be charged to a medicare patient.  It didn’t matter what your price structure happened to be, the max was the max.  If you exceeded this charge on a medicare patient, even on just one component of the total bill, you could get slapped with a considerable fine.  As I recall, the fine was a couple of thousand dollars per item, so if you messed up on three items out of a 30 item bill, you could get hammered for $6,000.

    This wonderful government intervention made it so that if you wanted to take care of medicare patients you would have to have two separate lists of charges, which made the whole thing a giant hassle.  You would always have to worry that your front office people coded something incorrectly leaving you open for a fine.  It may have been worthwhile had medicare paid the same as a regular insurance company, but medicare paid next to nothing.  So, why go through all the hassle and run the risk of a fine (or at best a lengthy process of detailing to them why you inadvertently overcharged a medicare patient) to make no money?

    We, like many other physicians, decided to not see medicare patients.  Which is not as easy as it sounds.  When a patient came in who was over 65 years old we couldn’t even see that patient even if the patient wanted to pay cash and not use medicare.  Why?  Because if we took care of a patient who had medicare and paid us, that patient could then take our bill and submit it to medicare for reimbursement.  As soon as that happened and any of the charges were greater than the medicare max we were shafted.

    This is why the government can do a ‘less expensive’ at administering healthcare.  What a joke!

    There are privatized fire departments, privatized prisons, privatized garbage collection companies, and a host of other services that used to be provided by local or state governments.  In just about all cases the private versions work much better.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  18. Bryan Rankin on April 2, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I think the folks at mises.org are reading your blog, Mike.
    http://mises.org/story/2511

    Hi Bryan–

    I would be proud if they really were.  BTW, interesting article; thanks for the link.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  19. Max on April 3, 2007 at 9:05 am

    “There are privatized fire departments, privatized prisons, privatized garbage collection companies, and a host of other services that used to be provided by local or state governments. In just about all cases the private versions work much better.”

    Privatized fire departments only work when they are sponsored regional monopolies. If you have competition in this industry, you get fires. There’s a TON of history to back this up.

    Privatized prisons are scary. The complains against Wackenhut are systemic and if you sub-names, make Abu Ghraib look, well, a little excessive.

    With a lot of these public goods gone private, you need to create regional monopolies and then regulate the bejeezus out of them.

    In the federal government, we have privatized all sorts of functions, from IT (which no longer works as smoothly as it used to) to HR (which bottles the mind).

    Mike, lemme give you the argument you might lay against someone like Clooney yacking about something other than acting. You’re a little out of your depth when you are talking about economics. It’s clearly not your field and your support on the efficiency/quality of privatized public goods simply doesn’t carry water.

    I’m sorry you couldn’t make money on medicare patients. I’m not even going to talk to that. But VA hospitals (not Mil) give better care more affordably than private ones.

    I think this gets to a core values question. Some (me) believe that a nation’s health is a public good and essential to the promise and values the country was founded on (pursuit of …). Others (you) believe something along the lines of “the market will provide everything and that’s the value this country was founded on.” That gap is core and non-resolvable.

    Max–

    Don’t feel sorry for me for not making money on medicare patients; feel sorry for all the people over 65 who are getting screwed because of the policies of your employer.

    And

    VA hospitals (not Mil) give better care more affordably than private ones.

    Please.  I’ve spent a lot of time in VA hospitals in various parts of the country, and I can tell you that I feel about them as did MD’s dad, who was a WWII vet.  He always remarked that he would never go to the VA no matter how sick he got as long as he had his pistol and one bullet left in it. 

    There are some smart academic types at VA hospitals who do some pretty good research.  But academic types are not in practice for a reason.  You don’t want the academic types taking care of you if your sick.

    VA hospitals have giant wards where 20 patients are in one large room with their beds rowed up.  If people would put up with such accommodations in private hospitals, private hospitals would be much less expensive to run.  And if people in private hospitals would submit to the care of interns and residents who are making chicken feed because they’re in training (these are the people who do most of the work in VA hospitals) that would make their care cheaper to boot.

    MRE 

  20. Francis St-Pierre on April 17, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Well, I was going to be original in posting a Mises.org article, but it seems someone has beat me to it by a few weeks! 🙂

    By the same author of the book I linked to earlier, Robert Murphy. Enjoy.

    http://mises.org/story/2538

    Francis

    Hi Francis–

    I love this site.  I tried once to work my way through Human Events, but found it pretty rough going and abandoned it.  Now that I’m a little (lot) older, maybe I should give it a try again.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  21. Malcolm on April 23, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    As I see it there are a couple of flaws in your thinking. First, a ‘properly functioning democracy’ is a mythical beast, much like a unicorn. Everyone has heard of unicorns, but no one has ever really seen one. Same with a properly functioning democracy. I take it to mean that a properly functioning democracy is one that functions as you would like to see it function, not as reality demands that it function. We can propose that virtually all problems can be solved by a properly functioning democracy; we just can’t ever find one.

    Hi Mike,

    As I see it there are more flaws in your way of thinking! J
    Before we continue this discussion (which I’m more than happy to do), you might need to give me a heads up when you respond as this post is getting buried.
    OK, Unicorns! Well of course there are flaws in the democratic process – but before you throw your hands up and give up, don’t you think you should suggest an alternative? Lets see … anarchy? No? – some form of benign dictatorship, with perhaps you as the dictator? – Sounds tempting but would you want the job (I wouldn’t) – and of course that ignores the process of achieving that goal (I imagine quite a few deluded supporters of democracy (however flawed) would need to be shot). No?
    So where does that leave us? – Oh I know, the perfectly functioning free market model – but wait, that looks very much like a unicorn!

    I may be repeating myself, but wouldn’t it be better to do everything possible to make the system we have function better (at the very least until an alternative is found)? If that is a ‘yes’ then the better educated the whole population is (not just you and your children) the better the political system will work. Is ever going to be perfect? Of course not, but all of us benefit, however incrementally. A simple example would be fear. Politicians have learnt a simple message from religion – if the great unwashed are ignorant enough you can get them to believe in just about anything, and not only that, once you have they will happily conform to whatever your agenda requires simply by fermenting fear in the unknown – xenophobia, fictional justifications for pre-emptive attack, religious ignorance/intolerance are current (Iraq) but perennial favourites. A population schooled in critical thinking could not be so easily led.

    ”As to the public school systems being chronically underfunded…I think that is a unicorn-like myth as well. I know a teacher from an inner city school in an industrial city with a huge minority population – the very schools everyone assumes are underfunded – who makes $87,000 per year. When her salary is annualized taking into account her three months off in the summer (not to mention two weeks at Christmas, a week in the spring, and countless other holidays) it comes out to $116,000 per year. I would imagine a whole lot of people would like to make that salary and wouldn’t consider themselves underpaid”.

    I also have a friend who works for the State system (he is the head master of a local primary school) He earns over 80k. Ask him (or your friend) if his school is chronically under funded by comparison with the private schools and I’m sure the answer would be an emphatic ‘yes’. Sure they earn good money these days – but ask yourself why? Would you want to do their job? (I know I wouldn’t!) So the free market says that is the sort of salary you have to offer or nobody would do the job – or at least nobody qualified. But is that the extent of the unicorn? What about facilities, equipment, staffing levels …? My friend tells me the sort of budget decisions he gets involved with are of the ‘we could sack the part time librarian so we can have a few dollars to do some of the essential maintenance’ variety – after all we can’t afford many new books. Ask your friend how many students are in her class compared to the nearest private school? How much support does she get for dealing with kids with learning difficulties, with physical disabilities, with behavioural problems which affect the learning opportunities of the rest of the class? Again if she worked down the road would her experience be the same? It isn’t a unicorn, and it is getting worse (the divide) – at least here, and in the end we all pay the price – in fact there are no shortage of studies that show that investment in education produces outstanding returns when all the long term benefits (criminal, social and health) are factored in.

    I’m not sure about you, but I have seen both sides in my own education, in fact the first school I attended was a public one in New York City (my father was doing a sabbatical at what was then the Rockerfeller Institute). Since then I have attended public and private schools and a public university. I can’t say that the standards and the commitment of the staff varied a great deal between the two – and I imagine the same would be true today, but the ideological push for private education at the expense of the public system has no doubt had its effects.

    ”Stop mercilessly taxing parents and let them spend their own money to send their kids to the schools of their choice. Some will opt for the ‘creation science curriculum-type schools, but more – I would bet – will opt for schools of much higher quality than the public schools they’re now attending”.

    Again where is your model? Where in the world has this proven to be the case? Go anywhere around the world where the state is not involved in providing education and you will find even basic schooling is regarded as a luxury for the rich. Just reducing taxation will not mean that parents will suddenly see private education as the most pressing use for the extra money. Reducing taxation and running down the public school further (or abolishing it completely) will no doubt provide more incentive for more parents to do so, but the effects on the society in which we live are not going to be positive, whatever the choices that you and yours make as a consequence.

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Hi Malcolm–

    You’ve got in backwards as far as the private versus public school situation in the United States.  Here teachers in private schools are paid significantly less than those in public schools.  Why?  Because people who teach in private schools don’t have to deal with the discipline problems that those do who teach in public schools.  Enlightened individuals (such as yourself) have made it so that it is virtually impossible to discipline children in public schools without cries of racism or whatever the ism of the day is.  Most dedicated teachers want to teach, that is they want to help children learn things of importance, not spend their entire day dealing with disruptive, unruly children who can’t be disciplined for fear that it might injure their little psyches.  As a result, these quality teachers often opt for the private school system where the pay is less, but the job satisfaction is much greater.

    And, BTW, I don’t really believe that either one of us is indulging in flawed thinking although that’s what I wrote.  We come to it from two different world views.  Yours is a statist, collectivist model that says I and others that are as smart as I know what’s best for everyone else, therefore we will use the threat of violence to ensure that everyone follows our model.  (In other words, we establish the programs that we in our wisdom ‘know’ will work, we will put them in place, we will tax you to pay for them because even thought you are too foolish to see the reasoning we do know what’s best for you, and if you disagree and refuse to pay your taxes we will send people with guns to arrest you and put you in jail (the threat of violence).)  My world view is a more libertarian one that posits that it is each individuals responsibility to provide for himself and his own, to make the best selections depending upon his own ideas of what constitutes proper schooling (I read an article a couple of months ago in a major newspaper – I can’t remember which one because I read so many – that said that children who were home schooled had significantly higher scores on the SATs than those who went to either public or private schools.), proper behavior (as long as it doesn’t harm others), and life in general.  If you want to see my views on these things pretty much encapsulated, read The Law by Frederic Bastiat, which is a little book that, in my opinion, should be taught in every school, but alas the teacher’s unions would never allow it.  So neither one of us is indulging in flawed thinking based on our own particular views of how things should function.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  22. Malcolm on April 24, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Hi Mike,
    I was joking when I echoed your flawed thinking remark, but I not sure how you arrived at the conclusions you have made about my ‘world view’ – either way the result is certainly faulty! Apparently I hate discipline so much that it can form no part of the school process, but if anyone disagrees with me I will be around in a flash with my gun to enforce my view! I certainly can’t recall suggesting anything of the kind.

    OK lets be clear – I have no issue with private education (did I mention I was privately educated?). I totally believe parents should have a choice as to where their children go to school. Here if parents choose the private option, some of the costs of doing so are borne by the government as a reflection of the lessened burden on the public system. I support this.
    I support discipline in schools, regardless of the system. The private school I attended was a Quaker one. Now whilst they showed admirable restraint in not shoving religion down the throats of students, shortly after I arrived the school decided that as a pacifist order the use of the cane was inappropriate and should be discontinued. The joy of the students was short lived when it became clear that this edict simply meant they would hit us with anything else that came to hand! Nowdays corporal punishment isn’t permitted in any school – and I support this, as I don’t believe it is necessary to maintain order and it also sends the message that violence is an acceptable response – and the results since the ban bear this out. We have filmed in a number of schools over the last few years and discipline is remarkably similar between systems – remarkable because many of the public schools are situated in much more challenging areas and any problem students (which the private schools reject) end up in the public system. So if you have issues with discipline in your state schools perhaps you might consider lack of resources is a much more likely reason rather than some supposed handicap state run education of itself imposes.

    Here private schools pay as much or more to attract the best teachers (as I’m sure at least the elite schools do in your area – and if they don’t, why not?). My friend (who is a gifted teacher) was tempted to take a private school job because of the substantial resources available, the much smaller class sizes, and much lower workload (he would no longer have do administration, fund raising, counselling, ground work and maintenance on top of his teaching time – as the private school had dedicated staff to attend to each of these tasks). He eventually (and regretfully) decided he couldn’t teach within the rigid confines expected from a religion based school and recognised that the challenges and rewards working with disadvantaged students were a major reason he decided to become a teacher in the first place. It is this sort of dedication that you find in public schools here, and as I say, in my experience the standard of education, and the calibre of the teachers was about the same – but that was in the days where the money/resources divide was not as pronounced as it is now (and it as it increasingly will be if your views are accepted).

    Home schooled kids do better? I’m sure children of parents that committed to being involved in their education do much better regardless of what form of schooling they have (in fact many would say that the private school ‘advantage’ is just that).

    I have a statist, collectivist model? Well if you want to call it that (I certainly wouldn’t) – I strongly believe in civil liberties (like freedom to choose in education) and the last thing I want to see is violence or the threat of violence being used to impose my ideas (I’m really not sure where that came from!). But one thing I do value is quality education being made available to all – even to those children whose parents either can’t or won’t make the sacrifices required to achieve this end. Now this is not just a ‘statist and collectivist’ viewpoint because I recognise that a society that shares this goal is also one in which my civil liberties are much more protected than a dog eat dog free market society where children with less enlightened or less wealthy than yours or mine are thrown on the scrap heap of an under educated under class – the mere existence of which threatens our freedoms. With respect, your model of simple individual responsibility (which again I support) does not attempt to address the costs to society you might aspire to live in, when so many will fall short of accepting that responsibility without assistance.

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Hi Malcolm–

    You made the following statement:

    …the last thing I want to see is violence or the threat of violence being used to impose my ideas (I’m really not sure where that came from!). But one thing I do value is quality education being made available to all – even to those children whose parents either can’t or won’t make the sacrifices required to achieve this end.

    If you value quality education as much as you claim to (and I have no reason to suppose you don’t), then how do you propose we bring this about?  I could be wrong, but I assume that you would believe that we should tax people to raise the money to provide this education to all because you are convinced we will all be better off with an educated populace.  (Forget for a minute whether or not that last statement is actually true–I can think of instances where it might not be, but for now, let’s not argue about it.)  You believe this with all your heart and are all for imposing a fee on everyone (i.e. taxes) to bring this about because you believe it to be right and noble irrespective of whether others feel the same way.  You know it to be true.  You’re not pretty sure it’s true; you know it deep in your core. (BTW, ‘knowing’ something to be true that is in reality an unknowable social issue is the hallmark of a fundamentalist.)  If I, or anyone else, feel differently about it, I still have to pay the tax imposed by people who believe as you do.  If I don’t pay the tax, or if I subtract the portion of my tax bill that goes for funding public education, then the taxman comes after me and forcibly takes my property.  If I try to resist, the taxman shoots me or arrests me and puts me in jail.  What is this if not violence?

    Is it okay in your world view for me to opt out of paying taxes to support public education? If your answer is No, then you support violence to impose your ideas.

    Have I made a mistake in my logic somewhere?  And remember before you answer, that we’re not debating whether public education is good, we’re debating whether it’s okay to impose one’s world view on another by the use of violence.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  23. Malcolm on April 25, 2007 at 4:22 am

    Hi Mike,

    We ARE debating the value of public education because, if you insist in putting it in those terms, we both believe in the threat of violence to impose our world view – although I can’t recall the last time anyone was shot for tax evasion here – perhaps the IRS are a tougher breed. Before you object, the only difference between us is that you believe people should be forced to contribute at least for the costs of state run police force and army, whereas I think there is a role for government in other areas that the free market won’t or can’t fill. But remember that these ideas are not just mine, they reflect the will of the majority of people in this country. Any time someone wants to run on a policy of lower taxes and no public education at all – they are free to do so and if the majority agrees, the policy changes and your ideas are adopted with no violence or bloodshed of any kind. This is what we call a democracy – I’m still waiting to hear details of your alternative – if it’s better I’m all ears.

    You refer to me as a fundamentalist – a scurrilous charge if ever there was one! Well lets see, the fundamentalists I encounter believe things solely on faith – evidence is immaterial, in fact they seem to regard it as a badge of honour to believe things that actually fly in the face of the evidence. Well I have personally experienced both sides of the public/private educational divide (have you?), I have seen first hand the changes wrought to an education system in which high quality school and university education used to be available to all, but now neglect and idealogical purges have seen many of those features stretched to the limit or stripped away completely. I can see directly the damage that process has caused, and I don’t agree it requires faith beyond the evidence before me to expect that damage to continue. There is also plenty of research if you choose to look, pointing to the long term value to society of a comparatively minuscule investment in public education, but as I understand it the nature of the society in which you live doesn’t concern you as it does me.

    OTOH despite requests you seem unable to point to a society or group that has adopted your ideals with success. You apparently don’t want to live in a democracy, but can’t quite suggest what might replace it and how you might bring that about with or without the imposition of your idea with violence. And you don’t provide any evidence at all that suggests your ‘solution’ would benefit anyone other than yourself – and only that if you (despite the evidence to the contrary) assume you live your life in a vacuum completely isolated from the fate of others.

    Sounds much more fundamentalist than where I’m coming from.

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Hi Malcolm–

    First, violence isn’t just being shot.  If I refuse to pay my taxes someone from ‘law enforcement’ will come to my house with a gun and take me away and put me in jail.  If I refuse or fight, I get shot.  If I go along, it’s because I fear the violence.   So even though most issues don’t end in actual violence, the threat is always there.

    I in a way agree with the idea that a democracy is the be-all and end-all of all political systems, but we must always remember that a lynch mob is a democracy as well.  I fear the let’s-vote-in-more-bread-and-circuses crowd and the politicians who pander to them.  There are always going to be more infantrymen than their are officers, but the officers are still in control.  In the same way there are always going to be more people making little money than there are people making a lot of money–the balance sheets of a country don’t spread themselves out in bell-shaped curve fashion.  For example, if you took the average height of 1000 random people you had gathered in an auditorium somewhere, and then the tallest person in the world walked in, the average height on the people gathered might go up by a fraction of an inch.  But if you gathered 1000 random people and calculated their average wealth, then Bill Gates walked in, the average wealth would increase substantially.  There are always going to be fewer wealthy people than there are unwealthy people, and in a democracy the wealth of those wealthy people is put at risk because the greater majority of the unwealthy can be persuaded to vote to redistribute the wealth of the wealthy to the more numerous non-wealthy.  And it can all be done under the pretense of doing good for society.

    I don’t smoke, I never have, and I hate being around smoke and smokers.  But if I chose to smoke in my own home, what’s the problem?  One could make the case that if I smoke, my kids who look up to me will be more likely to smoke, and that will be worse for society.  Or that I could contract lung cancer and unless I’m fully insured, my medical bills will accrue to society.  Or that my house is more likely to catch on fire, requiring the services of the fire department, which would cost society money.  Or that the nicotine would stain my walls requiring more frequent painting and the release of more toxins into the air, thus damaging society.  If I had the energy, I could probably come up with a hundred reasons why society could be harmed in some way  by my smoking cigarettes in my own home.  Then the case could be made that since it’s better for society (and my extension, me, since I’m part of society) I should be forbidden to smoke in my own home.

    Were there a demagogue around (a demagogue is one who moves the majority in a democracy), he or she might make the above case and pass a law that outlaws smoking in one’s home because it’s bad for society.  Although this is an unlikely scenario, a much more likely scenario is that a demagogue or group of demagogues decide that Bill Gates has earned too much money, and that he should contribute to all these various causes (involuntarily contribute by the way of increasing his taxes) that improve society because he himself will benefit.  As the saying goes, he needs to pay his fair share.  What these people don’t realize or refuse to realize is that Bill Gates made his money by contributing to society.  The same thing with Steve Jobs.  And a zillion other people I could name who have made fortunes.  If these guys hadn’t been around and had the initiative they did, I wouldn’t be writing this blog and you wouldn’t be reading it.  Computers wouldn’t exist.  Sure they would, you say, someone else would have invented them.  True.  But that someone else would have made a fortune as well.

    People generally make money by providing goods or services that other people need or want.  If a lot of people need or want something, then those providing that something make a lot of money.  If people are providing something that not many people want, then those doing the providing don’t do as well.  As it works out there are many fewer in the former group than in the latter, but the reason those in the former group get rich is that they provide more of what people want or need.  In a unbridled democracy, those vast numbers at the lower end can always vote in laws that pillage those in fewer numbers at the top end of income.

    In my opinion, the only way a democracy works are if there are guidelines and rules prohibiting the lynch mob.  Unfortunately, because of demagoguery and the difference in numbers of those at the lower end of the financial spectrum and those at the upper end, the rules have been changed.  And most of them have been changed under the guise of doing good for society.

    As to your being a fundamentalist, I didn’t mean in a religious fashion, I meant that you believe by faith because that’s the only way that sociological issues can be dealt with.  Sure studies show this and that, but they aren’t rigorously done studies in the way good scientific studies are done because they can’t be.  And, consequently, they can’t be believed.  An example is the gun control issue.  There are studies showing that controlling handguns reduces gun related crimes.  There are also studies showing just the opposite, that allowing home and business owners to have guns reduces crime because the criminals are more afraid.  People argue both sides passionately, but they do so on faith.  And anyone who believes something devoutly without solid evidence to prove it is a fundamentalist.  People on both sides of the gun control debate are fundamentalists, but just of an opposite stripe.

    Cheers–

    MRE

Leave a Comment